Sports is an important component of our daily news consumption. We are bombarded with special sports section pages, special sports news and programmes highlighting the latest developments in the area. And an Indian victory is almost always played out across the front pages of newspapers and headlines of television news. Sports, especially cricket, has always been a popular genre of news in our country.
However, what was earlier an occasional front page headline has rapidly become an ongoing trend where sports dominates the front pages of papers and prime-time television news. The trend is being played out even across Hindi newspapers and channels. Our country’s preoccupation with politics is well known and its conspicuous coverage in news media further reiterates the same.
But now, our national passion for cricket (roughly 80% of sports coverage is focused on cricket) is also reflected in the media.
This is the prominent finding of the annual CMS Media Lab review of newspapers and news channels in 2008. In fact, sports news was so significant in prime time television news that I had to double check the numbers to rule out any possible errors.
We found that this was primarily due to the fact that most news channels had special half an hour sports news programme during prime time. This contributed significantly to take sports to the top of the heap in our prime time space allocation analysis.
Also Read P.N. Vasanti’s earlier columns
The dominance of sports in this annual review could also be due to the two major sports events: the Indian Premier League’s inaugural Twenty20 cricket tournament and the Beijing Olympics. To comprehend this further, we looked at newspapers across the country during a three- month period of 2008. The period picked didn’t have any high-profile sports events. The India-England Test and ODI series was being played out. And there were a few events related to the Indian medal winners at the Olympics. Almost all papers had around 5% space of their front pages dedicated to sports news; in the case of Delhi-based dailies, this number was 10%. Among the five language dailies analysed, only Bengali paper Anandabazar Patrika had around 10% space devoted to sports.
Also See Sports Coverage (Graphic)
However, there was a slight increase in sports coverage in other language newspapers between September and November.
Clearly then sports is now not just the exclusive domain of the eight exclusive sports television channels and 12 sports publications here. In fact, one study of the Olympics coverage in India discovered that more people watched the Olympics in the news channels than in the sports channels. Also, sports is not restricted to sports or news channels but a popular genre even in general entertainment channels. Infact, I often joke with my friends about how we are moving from soap operas to sports operas.
One explanation to the priority media space given to sports is that today a game such as cricket is no longer just another sports or even entertainment. It’s a mega advertisement affair and is big business. It is glamorous, sees the participation of high-profile celebrities, and is even connected to politics and international relations.
In India, cricket is aspirational and allows people to get involved. Riding on this popularity, newspapers and television news channels are using sports as front page or prime time hooks. They realize that today, sports is the only feel-good news genre that works with readers or viewers and advertisers.
Still, the front pages of newspapers and prime time television news channels are believed to set the agenda for our nation. With diminishing space available today for critical issues such as environment, health, education, governance, agriculture and civic issues, the dominant presence of sports could hurt more than it helps.
But really, why worry? Have you heard anyone complaining?
Graphics by Ahmed Raza Khan / Mint